Scenes from the Life of an Asthma Mom

It's 4:00p.m., and I am driving back to the pediatrician's office again - the second time today and the fourth time this week. As I drive, I count the number of seconds between coughs from my 2-year-old in the backseat. I don't make it higher than 10.

I now realize I should have packed a bag, because I am certain they will send us to the hospital. The last thing the doctor said to me this morning was, "If you reach a point where you can't safely handle this at home, we'll have to admit him."

I'm driving back to our pediatrician's office, because I've reached that point. I should have packed a bag.

It's 3:00a.m., and my back hurts from leaning against the wall, holding my 8-year- old in an upright position with the nebulizer mask to his face. He has fallen asleep - mercifully breathing easier. He is exhausted as am I. We've been "nebbing around the clock" - every 4 hours, day and night - for the past two days. As I try to figure out how to get some sleep myself while keeping him upright so he doesn't start coughing again (which he will do as soon as I lay him down), my tired brain tries to figure out if we can wait this out until morning or if I should just "cut to the chase" and take him into the emergency room now. It is clear that we'll end up there, though I'd much prefer to wait until daylight. But then there's rush hour traffic to contend with so that might not be the best choice. I decide to give it another hour.

It's 11:30p.m., and I am woken from a sound sleep by my 10-year-old crying. I find him in the bathroom, dry heaving and coughing, with a panicked look in his eyes. He went to bed with croup and asthma symptoms but had quieted down after his nebulizer treatment. I am scared - I wonder how in the world he got this bad so quickly.

I ask him my standard question, "On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you?"

Our scale works like this - 1 is "I feel okay" and 10 is "I feel horribly, terribly sick." To this point, on his sickest days - even those in the hospital - he has never said higher than a 2. His eyes open wide with panic, and he flashes 10 fingers. I yell to my husband to call 911.

It's 1:00a.m., and my 13-year-old is getting his third nebulizer treatment in the past hour. He's been hospitalized with H1N1 (swine flu), which has exacerbated his asthma, and he is SICK. Really sick! It's been scary and terribly sad. Jake has missed his 8th grade graduation ceremony during this hospital stay.

I ask the nurse what we do if this treatment doesn't get him over the hurdle, and she looks at me and says, "well, then we go to the ICU."

Jake's asthma has never landed him in the ICU. This is new territory, and I don't like it. Did I mention I'm scared?

It's 9:00p.m., and my 17-year-old is sleeping in the hospital bed next to where I sit on the chair that will convert to my "bed" later that evening. I've been in this room with Jake for the past five days, and I am starting to go crazy. I am grateful he is sleeping comfortably, but I selfishly wonder what in the world I am going to do with myself to get through the long night ahead. I will toss and turn and won't be able to turn on the TV for entertainment, because I don't want to wake Jake or the other sleeping kids on the floor. I watch the monitors beside his bed and hope the alarms stay silent for a few hours so I can sleep. Who am I kidding? Those alarms have been going off for five days, reminding me each time that we are no closer to going home. Maybe I should just give up on sleep and head downstairs for another cup of coffee?


Our asthma journey has been hard - mostly on my son Jake but on the rest of our family as well. We have missed a lot of work; Jake has missed a lot of school; and his older brother has missed a lot of holidays and vacations, because his brother was too sick to leave home. It's bad enough that Jake has a life-threatening congenital heart defect that has required three open heart surgeries. And believe me, it's been a scary struggle. Yet, to add to matters, his asthma has been an unpredictable, frightening visitor in our home for the past 18 years that has in many ways been harder to manage than his heart condition.

I think there is a perception (MIS-perception) that asthma isn't really that big of a deal. Those of us who have lived with it know that's not at all true. As a mom, I think that the worst part of asthma is the complete loss of control - for the person with asthma and also for his/her caretakers. You do all you can to minimize triggers and effectively manage medications, but you can't ever get it perfect. Flare-ups can happen suddenly and escalate quickly. It can - and does - interfere with many aspects of your family life. And while some people don't realize it, asthma attacks can be deadly.

I care about reducing air pollution because it causes asthma attacks. Asthma is scary at best and life-threatening at worst. The memories I have of Jake's attacks remind me of the severity of this disease and the critical importance of doing all we can to protect our kids.

Please consider joining me in calling on the president to set strong soot standards when he makes his final decision on December 14th. Healthy air is not something my son Jake can live without. My son and others who suffer from lung and heart disease need our president's compassion and support when it comes to this vital rule making decision.